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She is the patron of Athens, which built the Parthenon to worship her. In a temple at Phrixa in Elis, which was reportedly built by Clymenus, she was known as Cydonia.
Athena's cult seems to have existed from very early times as the patron of Athens and was so persistent that myths about her were rewritten often to adapt to cultural changes over the multiple eras of Ancient Greek traditions. The Greek philosopher, Plato (429–347 B.C.E.), identified her with the Libyan deity, Neith, who was the war-goddess and huntress deity of the Egyptians since the ancient predynastic period. She also would come to be known as the goddess of wisdom as philosophy became applied to cult in the later fifth century and Classical Greece. She was the patroness of weaving especially, and other crafts (Athena Ergane), and the more disciplined side of war, where she led the battle (Athena Promachos). The metalwork associated with the creation of weapons fell under her patronage. Athena's wisdom also includes the cunning intelligence (metis) of such figures as Odysseus.
Athena, holding an owl, wears the ancient form of the Gorgon head on her aegis, as the huge serpent who guards the golden fleece regurgitates Jason; cup by Douris, Classical Greece, early fifth century BC. She is attended by an owl, and is often accompanied by the goddess of victory, Nike, whom in established icons she offers upon her extended hand. Wearing a breastplate of either goatskin or snake skin called the Aegis, which in late myths is said to have been given to her by her father, Zeus although she was associated with this long before in other cultural contexts. She often is shown helmeted and with a shield bearing the Gorgon head, the hallmark of the early goddess cult in Greece that was given the highest position in the apex of the front facade of the Parthenon. Her shield was later said to be a votive gift of Perseus. A serpent often accompanies this goddess and frequently is depicted at the base of the staff of her lance. The sea and ships as well as horses and chariots are associated with her, but with less frequency. Athena is an armed warrior goddess, and appears in Greek mythology as a helper of many heroes, including Odysseus, Jason, and Heracles. In Classical Greek myths she never had a consort or lover, and thus, often was known as Athena Parthenos ("Athena the virgin"), hence the name of her most famous temple, the Parthenon, on the Acropolis in Athens. In a remnant of archaic myth, she was the mother or adoptive mother of Erichthonius by the attempted rape by Hephaestus, which failed. Other variants relate that the serpent who accompanied Athena, also called Erichthonius, was born to Gaia, Earth, when the rape failed and the semen landed on Gaia, impregnating her, and that after the birth he was given to Athena by Gaia. In her role as a protector of the city, Athena was worshiped throughout the Greek world as Athena Polias ("Athena of the city"). She had a special relationship with Athens, as is shown by the etymological connection of the names of the goddess and the city.
In The Greek Myths by Robert Graves he notes early myths about the birth of Athena, in which she is described as a goddess from Libya whose worship came to the Greeks from Crete after arriving there as early as 4,000 BC. Graves also states that Hesiod (c. 700 BC) relates that Athena was a parthenogenous daughter of Metis, wisdom or knowledge, a Titan who ruled the fourth day and the planet Mercury. Other variants relate that although Metis was of an earlier generation of the Titans, Zeus became her consort when his cult gained dominance. In order to avoid a prophecy made when that change occurred, that any offspring of his union with Metis would be greater than he—Zeus is said to have swallowed Metis to prevent her from having offspring, but she already was pregnant with Athena. Metis gave birth to her and nurtured her inside Zeus until Athena burst forth from his forehead fully armed with weapons given by her mother. In the late Classical Greek myths, Athena is most commonly described as the daughter of Zeus, born from his head after he swallowed her pregnant mother. The weapons for which she is most famous are the thunderbolt and the Aegis, which she and Zeus were said to share exclusively.
The Olympian version
After he swallowed her pregnant mother, Metis, Athena is "born" from Zeus' forehead as he grasps the clothing of Eileithyia on the right—black-figured amphora, 550–525 BC, Louvre. Although at Mycenaean Knossos Athena appears before Zeus does—in Linear B, as a-ta-na po-ti-ni-ja, "Mistress Athena"— in the Classical Olympian pantheon, Athena was remade as the favorite daughter of Zeus, born fully armed from his forehead after he swallowed her mother, Metis. The story of her birth comes in several versions. In the one most commonly cited, Zeus lay with Metis, the goddess of crafty thought and wisdom, but he immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear children more powerful than the sire, even Zeus himself. In order to forestall these dire consequences, after lying with Metis, Zeus "put her away inside his own belly;" he "swallowed her down all of a sudden," He was too late: Metis had already conceived a child.
Eventually it came to be that Zeus was in great pain; Prometheus, Hephaestus, Hermes, or Palaemon cleaved Zeus's head with the double-headed Minoan axe, the labrys. Athena leaped from Zeus's head, fully grown and armed—with a shout, "and pealed to the broad sky her clarion cry of war. And Ouranos trembled to hear, and Mother Gaia..." (Pindar, Seventh Olympian Ode). As noted above the Minonan culture of Crete was thought by Plato to have been a source from which the cult of Athena was introduced from Lybia during the dawn of Greek culture. Classical myths thereafter noted that Hera was so annoyed at Zeus producing a child—apparently on his own—that she caused herself to conceive and bear Hephaestus by herself. After the appearance of
this variant it becomes stated that Metis thereafter never bore any more children and, that Zeus persisted as supreme ruler of Mount Olympus. The Greek myths became static at this point, not changing before the ancient culture declined and its religion faded from practice.
The major competing tradition regarding Athena's parentage involves some of her more mysterious epithets: Pallas, as in Ancient Greek Παλλάς Άθήνη (also Pallantias) and Tritogeneia (also Trito, Tritonis, Tritoneia, Tritogenes). A separate entity named Pallas is invoked – whether Athena's father, sister, foster-sister, companion, or opponent in battle. In every case, Athena kills Pallas, accidentally, and thereby gains the name for herself. When Pallas is Athena's father the events, including her birth, are located near a body of water named Triton or Tritonis, the result of an etymology of Tritogeneia from Tritonis. When Pallas is Athena's sister or foster-sister, Athena's father or foster-father is Triton, the son and herald of Poseidon. But Athena may be called the daughter of Poseidon and a nymph named Tritonis, without involving Pallas. Likewise, Pallas may be Athena's father or opponent, without involving Triton. On this topic, Walter Burkert says "she is the Pallas of Athens, Pallas Athenaie, just as Hera of Argos is Here Argeie. For the Athenians, Burkert notes, Athena was simply "the Goddess", he thea, certainly an ancient title.
Athena Parthenos: Virgin Athena
Athena never had a consort or lover and thus, also was known as Athena Parthenos, "Virgin Athena." Her most famous temple, the Parthenon, on the Acropolis in Athens takes its name from this title. It was not merely an observation of her virginity, but a recognition of her role as enforcer of rules of sexual modesty and ritual mystery. This role is expressed in a number of stories about Athena. Marinus reports that when Christians removed the statue of the Goddess from the Parthenon, a beautiful woman appeared in a dream to Proclus, a devotee of Athena, and announced that the "Athenian Lady" wished to dwell with him. Erichthonius Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena, but she eluded him. His semen fell on the ground, and Erichthonius was born from the Earth, Gaia. Athena then raised the baby as a foster mother. Athena put the infant Erichthonius in a small box (cista) which she entrusted to the care of three sisters, Herse, Pandrosus, and Aglaulus of Athens. The goddess didn't tell them what the box contained, but warned them not to open it until she returned. One or two sisters opened the cista to reveal Erichthonius, in the form (or embrace) of a serpent. The serpent, or insanity induced by the sight, drove Herse and Pandrosus to throw themselves off the Acropolis. Jane Harrison (Prolegomena) finds this to be a simple cautionary tale directed at young girls carrying the cista in the Thesmophoria rituals, to discourage them from opening it outside the proper context. Another version of the myth of the Athenian maidens is told in Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD); in this late variant Hermes falls in love with Herse. Herse, Aglaulus, and Pandrosus go to the temple to offer sacrifices to Athena. Hermes demands help from Aglaulus to seduce Herse. Aglaulus demands money in exchange. Hermes gives her the money the sisters had already offered to Athena. As punishment for Aglaulus's greed, Athena asks the goddess Envy to make Aglaulus jealous of Herse. When Hermes arrives to seduce Herse, Aglaulus stands in his way instead of helping him as she had agreed. He turns her to stone.
With this mythic origin, Erichthonius became the founder-king of Athens, where many beneficial changes to Athenian culture were ascribed to him. During this time, Athena frequently protected him. Medusa and Tiresias In a late myth, Medusa, unlike her two sister-Gorgons, came to be thought of by the Classical Greeks during the fifth century as, mortal and extremely beautiful, but she had sex with — or was raped by — Poseidon in a temple of Athena. Upon discovering the desecration of her temple, Athena changed Medusa's form to match that of her sister Gorgons as punishment. Medusa's hair turned into snakes, her lower body was transformed also, and meeting her gaze would turn any living creature to stone. In the earliest of myths there is but one Gorgon and the only snakes were two wrapped around her waist as a belt. In one version of the Tiresias myth, Tiresias stumbled upon Athena bathing, and was blinded by her nakedness. To compensate him for his loss, she sent serpents to lick his ears, which gave him the gift of prophecy.
Lady of Athens
Athena competed with Poseidon to be the patron deity of Athens, which was yet unnamed, in a version of one founding myth. They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift and that the Athenians would choose the gift they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a spring sprang up; this gave them a means of trade and water—Athens at its height was a significant sea power, defeating the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis—but the water was salty and not very good for drinking. (In an alternate version, Poseidon offered the first horse to the citizens, but horses also are associated with Athena in some myths.) Athena, however, offered them the first domesticated olive tree. The Athenians (or their king, Cecrops) accepted the olive tree and with it the patronage of Athena, for the olive tree brought wood, oil, and food. Robert Graves was of the opinion that "Poseidon's attempts to take possession of certain cities are political myths" which reflect the conflict between matriarchical and patriarchical religions. Athena also was the patron goddess of several other Greek cities, notably, Sparta.
Name, etymology, and origin
Athena had a special relationship with Athens, as is shown by the etymological connection of the names of the goddess and the city. Athena was said to have won a contest with Poseidon, god of the Sea, over the city of Athens. In Classical myths Zeus had decided that, in order to settle the feud, whoever gave the city the most useful gift would win ownership and patronage of the city. Poseidon gave the city a fountain of flowing water, but it was salty and was not much help to the people. Athena planted the first olive tree, which provided the people with food, firewood, and shade. She showed how to crush olives to make oil, that could then be used in a variety of ways. Athena's gift was the most useful, and she won patronage of the city. Athens was then named in her honor. The citizens of Athens built a statue of Athena as a temple to the goddess, which had piercing eyes, a helmet on her head, attired with a aegis or cuirass, and an extremely long spear. It also had a crystal shield with the head of the Gorgon on it. A large snake accompanied her and she held the goddess of victory in her hand.
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